International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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34th World Vegetarian Congress 2000
Toronto, Canada

Reports originally from by Tiffany Refior
July 17, 2000

Rae Sikora

Rae Sikora, an anthropologist and environmental educator, is co-founder of the Center for Compassionate Living in Surry, Maine, where she and Zoe Weil lead workshops and have created the nation's first Humane Education Certification Program (HECP).

Throughout the week-long 34th World Vegetarian Congress in Toronto, Ms. Sikora spoke about compassionate living, communication, and consumerism. She urged participants not to get caught up in consumerism and advertising. She emphasized that we all have knowledge to share with others, and "when you share with people here, it's going to be from someone speaking from their heart, not someone who's going to make a profit."

Ms. Sikora runs programs around the world and suggests that, when encountering a product, we ask ourselves a simple question: "Is this a want or a need?" She says that, when she goes into high schools in America and holds up a Coke can, many students identify it as a need rather than a want. This speaks to the power of advertising, she asserts, and says that we need to think consciously about every choice we make, to consider its effect on ourselves, other animals, and the planet.

She also emphasizes that we shouldn't get discouraged by thinking that our small choices don't make a difference. Recycling aluminum cans may seem like a small decision on an individual level, but it turns out to be a huge choice when you consider that, every year, Americans throw away enough aluminum to make a huge number of jet planes.

She urged participants to avoid television and negative messages from the media. When encountering advertising, she suggested, ask yourself what interest the advertisers have to gain by sending out their message. She recommends magazines like Adbusters, particularly their various spoof ads on food.

Ms. Sikora cautions not to get desensitized by the media and to think that our individual choices don't matter. To give an example of desensitization, she says:

"500 years ago, if I was standing by a river and I said to someone, 'You going to take a drink out of this river?' And then I told them that, in 500 years, this river would be so polluted, it would be poison, they would say, 'You're crazy. People wouldn't poison their own water.' But now, 500 years later, if I was standing at the edge of the river and said to someone, 'Dip your cup in and drink this water,' do you know what they'd say? 'You're crazy.' But it happened gradually, over time, so people didn't notice."

Photo ©2000 by Tiffany Refior.